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by Sotenga - May 18, 2014

Brain - Arcade (1986)

Shoot-em-ups can only be innovated to a limited extent, but they cannot escape their simple premise of just "blasting everything that moves." But why escape comfortable territory? Shmups are somewhat ill-defined as they stand, as you can argue that anything which involves a lot of shooting is a shmup, except for first-person and third-person shooters which are in their own separate ballpark. All a shooter needs to be its own is some design element, whether it's a lavish graphical style, outlandish level designs, or some amusing gameplay gimmick. Though no matter how well or poorly designed a shmup may be, it may likely fall into a void of obscurity, commonplace for such a niche genre. For example, Sega/Coreland's oddly named Brain is practically unknown today, but just because no one remembers it doesn't make it unremarkable. It jazzes up the conventional horizontal shooter formula and has a feel somewhat akin to HAL's cult classic Air Fortress on the NES, although Brain predated Air Fortress by a year. The two games likely had nothing to do with each other, but it's interesting to see a shooter like Brain take a more methodical approach that most shooters forwent in lieu of mile-a-second action.

Your ostensible goal is to destroy a duo of evil alien twin brains (hence the game's title) with a subgoal that shall be examined later. There are only a total of three different stages, and you spend a third of the game in a ship before your pilot disengages and takes on the baddies with a jetpack and large gun in the later two levels. Your ship only shoots forward, but in the suit, you can fire in all eight directions and you do not crash when grazing the edges of terrain. You also have a stock of five bombs which are good to destroy hard-to-reach enemies or targets of high endurance. One of the foremost gimmicks with Brain is how relatively slow-paced it is compared to other shooters. By technical definition, it's a Gradius-esque horizontal scroller and the screen keeps panning rightward... unless you move vertically far enough to reveal the rest of the landscape. Unlike most horizontal shooters where the top and bottom borders are ironclad, Brain allows you to explore far more of the landscape if you move far enough along the Y-axes, but oddly enough, the screen completely halts its horizontal course for as long as you scroll vertically instead. This grants you some breathing room and makes it easier to navigate the terrain. However, if you'll notice the bar at the bottom of the screen that says "AIR," you can't exactly dilly-dally for too long lest you run out of oxygen. Enemies will sometimes drop air canisters for you to replenish your oxygen supply, and they might also drop capsules which can really help you out, rare though they may be.


Grabbing a yellow capsule bolsters the power and fire rate of your main gun, denoted by firing two shots per burst instead of just one and granting automatic rapid fire. Snagging a purple capsule wipes the screen of all enemies with a single crimson flash. Boosting a coveted blue capsule not only destroys all enemies as well, but it completely maxes out your air gauge, which is incredibly useful to say the least. The scarce red capsule bestows upon you an extra life, and the super-rare green capsule causes time to pause for a few seconds while you either escape enemy fire or clean up the baddies. You'll need whatever help you can get against the enemy forces, who grow in number and fierceness the farther in you go. They range from turrets which look like abnormal growths, small humanoids which fly around you while taking parting shots, and odd totems which move like pistons and can only be shot in the eye. The ferocity of foes is also complemented by an increasing scarcity of air, where it can be nigh impossible to make it past the third stage without losing at least one life to asphyxiation. While there may be only three stages, it's tough to reach the end of Brain with the post-first level difficulty spike.

There's also an optional goal for you to obtain with finding six golden floppy discs wrought from destroying weird-looking aliens, themselves found by destroying enemy bases which are ironically smaller than their bodies. Collecting all six disks apparently achieves your goal of constructing plans for a "top secret-super robot," but you sadly don't get to actually pilot this robot. The game merely tells you to get them all if you miss one, but there's no real reward for grabbing all discs aside from a "CONGRATULATIONS! MISSION ACCOMPLISHED." While a significant gyp, this lame conclusion shouldn't dissuade you from giving Brain a shot. It's something different from other shooters of the time with its slower pace and high capacity for vertical scrolling. Its graphics are colorful and fitting, using the conventional set of bright pastels that Coreland often employs with a particular fondness for shades of blue. There's not much notable to say about the music, but while not particularly catchy, it is not offensive either. It's a well-rounded package that doesn't do anything too outlandishly bold, but it does change things up from your typical Gradius clone. You may think that Brain may suggest a more cerebral game attuned to role-playing or strategy, but the only brain here is the double dose of disembodied databanks you get to wreck at its end.

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Brain (Arcade)

Brain (Arcade)

Brain (Arcade)

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